All I want is a room somewhere.
Far away from the cold night air.
With one enormous chair,
Ah, Wouldn’t it be lover-ly? From, My Fair Lady
“Mom I found one of your crystal candy dishes, store or take?” My sister-in-law hollers up from the depths of an antique curio cabinet.
“I bought a new one already from the 99 cent store, pack it.”
My mother-in-law has repeated that reply numerous times by the end of the day. The day we set aside to clean out her house to ready it for selling. To decide what she’ll take with her to her temporary assisted living home, what she’ll set aside to take with her to the new senior living apartments she’ll move into later, what she insists on selling in a garage sale, and what goes into storage.
Spend a lifetime collecting and this is where it all goes. Her porcelain Hummel collection mirrored her young life growing up in Minnesota picking apples, swinging on the swing her big brother hung from the apple tree for her and lugging books with her father’s old belt instead of the backpacks on wheels we use today. Dozens of Beanie Babies and stuffed animals collected from various casino openings and re-openings fell under her daughter’s description from the back bedroom as, “This house has too much plush!” Rows and rows of tiny salt and peppershakers that depicted life from a quarreling Lucy and Ricky as well as an overheated frank and bean.
Samantha got a little edgy and asked to go swimming in the pool. I hadn’t thought to pack her suit so as I undressed her and explained what skinny-dipping was as I noticed the pool for the first time in a long time. Eddie taught me how to swim the breaststroke in my mother-in-law’s pool almost twenty years ago. I hadn’t had my suit that day either and he placed himself, in county lifeguard stance, several feet outside of it while calling out instructions. It felt so cool I remember, I let my hair dip in and then in one, what I pictured to be graceful swoop, I was under that same cool water. I described it to Samantha.
Then, as the packing and cleaning continued inside, I looked deeper at the pool, the yard, and the old red cracked shelves that outlined one side of it. We placed an archway once in front of that old shelf. An archway covered in roses, baby breath and orchids some fourteen years ago when Ed and I said our vows.
I found myself replaying it all for Sam. How we had the pool covered for a dance floor, where the pink carpet was laid out as an aisle, how we practically ran past everyone to get back inside for a quick moment alone afterwards. Samantha felt my mood and mimicked my actions, after a quick toweling off and putting her Tinkerbell undies back on of course. She strolled slowly down the imaginary aisle while I serenaded her with the music we had chosen back then, the theme from the 80’s film, “Saint Elmo’s Fire”.
After Samantha realized it was fair game to play with whatever was still left in the backyard swimming was soon forgotten. I laid out her towel in the shade and, at first, was content to watch her make up a conversation between Barb’s old wooden flowers and emptied planters. Then my eyes drifted over to those old red shelves again. I walked over and immediately started fingering objects. I wondered if I should salvage these from the inevitable garage sale. I gingerly fingered several bleached and cracked seashells. A small potted cactus looked promising but it fell apart when I tentatively lifted it off the shelf.
These little items were in the background of my wedding pictures! Even Eddie grew sentimental when I replayed this scene for him later. He remembered painting a one-inch wide brown stripe down the floor, walls and ceiling of the room he shared with his little brother. The family photographs, too many for Barb’s temporary home, still lined the hallway left for potential house buyers to peruse. And then I remembered the mailbox.
In the center of the old red shelf hung an equally old metal mailbox with the words U.S. mail stenciled on it in large block letters. It still had the red flag, which was constantly left, in the up position, making it the focal point of the back yard. Should we ask Barb if we could take that? Ed looked at me quizzically, you know I think he had forgotten about that mailbox a long time ago, but now he remembered it like he had been hit over the head with it. But you know what he told me? That mailbox came with the shelves, came with the house, some thirty years ago when Barb bought it. It was someone else’s memory that we couldn’t possibly, on no, never, never take with us.
She had so much more we each carried home that day, in the trunks of our cars, our minds and our heavy hearts.